War is never pretty, and yet somehow, I had a picture in my head of the time my grandfather, George Byer spent in World War I that made it seem very benign. I never pictured him being in any danger. You see, my grandfather was a cook in the Army during the war, and somehow I pictured him working in a safe place where the war was a very distant reality, and not something to be faced or dealt with. The cooks in World War I didn’t even get a gun, so they must not be in danger…right? Wrong…very wrong!! The men on the front couldn’t drive home to the safety zone every night after work, like I had pictured in my head. The kitchen was very close to the front. In Grandpa’s case, that kitchen was a commandeered kitchen in the lowest floor of a French castle. As far as anyone knows, the residents of the castle still lived there, although I’m not sure how their meals were handled. Perhaps, their own cooks were allowed a little time in the kitchen, or maybe their meals were served along with the men in the Army. I don’t suppose we will know the full answer to that question in this lifetime.
For a very long time…until just a few months ago, in fact, I carried the impression in my head that Grandpa’s job was really uneventful, other than the pressure of getting the meals to a large group of hungry men on time. Then, I came across a picture that I had seen several times over the past five years, but this time I was also looking at the list my aunts had made about what the pictures were about. In that moment, my idea of my grandfather’s service was changed forever. On the list they had written, that the man on the right, or the man in uniform, was Grandpa. The second picture was tagged with, “Castle in France. Owner of castle died in Daddy’s kitchen” and “cooks, who worked under Daddy.” I was instantly intrigued. I spoke to my aunt, Sandy Pattan about it, and found out that indeed, the kitchen was commandeered for the Army’s use, and the owner had been wounded and ran into the kitchen for help. Grandpa tried to save him, but the wounds were too bad, and the owner died right there. The man’s injuries told me that the front was not far from the castle. I suppose you might think I was reaching a little on that thought, but you would be wrong, because as I talked with Aunt Sandy, she told me something else that really clarified the danger my grandfather lived with every day of his time in the service.
It was another day in the castle kitchen, the men were working on the next meal. Suddenly an American soldier ran in and told the cooks to run for the woods. It seemed strange to me that running would be the order they would receive, but remember that Aunt Sandy told me that the cooks had no guns. If they stayed in the castle, they would be sitting ducks, because cooks or not, they were in the American Army, and that made them enemies of the Germans. The reason the men were told to run for the woods…the Germans were coming and they couldn’t stop them. The soldier didn’t have to tell the cooks twice. They dropped everything and ran. One of the cooks, while running into the woods, stepped on a dead man. The man had been dead a few days, because the cook’s foot went right into the man’s chest. Aunt Sandy told me that the smell was so bad and so permanent that when they couldn’t get the smell out of the man’s clothes, they had to be burned. I had no idea of the things Grandpa saw, nor of the danger he faced. It gave me a whole new picture of Grandpa Byer’s time in World War I. And I came to clearly realize that no job in the service is less dangerous than another…and least not on the front. It’s no wonder that most men don’t want to talk about the war.
Going through our parent’s kitchen was, for me, one of the more interesting parts of going through their house. Mom has had a salt and pepper shaker collection since her childhood, and while we have only scratched the surface of that collection, we have started to draw for them. As we have done so, I have noticed the differences in our personal tastes. We might set out five different sets of salt and pepper shakers, and we would almost always choose a different one for each. For me, a set that Grandma Byer brought back from Ireland for Mom had always caught my eye. They were castles with shamrocks on them, and so typically Ireland. They always seemed so special. Mom’s salt and pepper shakers were a part of who she was.
For some reason, many people are collectors. The collections vary as much as the people who collect them. I know that there are people who don’t collect things, and I suppose their houses are not as cluttered as those of us who do collect things, but somehow I think that maybe they miss out of something that comes with collecting. When you have a collection, you find yourself picking out things of varying styles, as your personal styles change. That is the interesting thing about collecting. Your choices never stay similar. Even with my own collection…spoons, I was able to find interesting styles that were different than any others I had.
And if you think men can’t be collectors, you would be wrong. My dad loved his coffee cups, and Mom even liked the coffee cups, so much so in fact, that before long they had matching sets of cups. There were the Spencer cups, the Al cups, and cups from the many places they had visited over the years. They even had a tiny cup with a mouse and cheese on it. I guess everyone needed a cup…no matter who they were.
I don’t know how Dad came to have his collection, but as I said, Mom’s started as a child and her feelings about salt and pepper shakers never changed after that. They would always hold an interest for Mom. As we have looked through the salt and pepper shakers we have come across, we can all see out mother, and we can understand why she found each one that she chose, and each one that was given to her special in its own way. I suppose Mom was more of a collector than Dad was, but as I said, I don’t think anyone is really immune to collecting.
When my grandfather, George Floyd Byer was in the service during World War I, he started out as a cook, and later became the chief cook…or basically the man in charge. He was well respected by all the men under him. In fact, he and his men got along so well that they even liked spending their leave time together. A lot of the time, men on leave hang out with other guys in their unit, but not usually the ones who are above them, nevertheless, Grandpa’s men didn’t seem to mind at all. Or maybe it was just different back then.
Whether a person is excited about being stationed in another country or not, it is a good opportunity to see the world. Even in World War I, when it was not quite as easy to get to so many places, they could still see the towns around them, and like my grandfather, sometimes they get to see a castle in France. This was the case when my grandfather and some of his men went on leave. I don’t know how much of the castle they got to see, but they were able to say that they had been to one, and that is a very cool thing in the World War I days.
My grandfather was always a very respected man, in the service and out of it. Nevertheless, it is hard for me to imagine him in the service. He was such a gentle man…like my dad, and it’s hard for me to imagine my dad in the service too. Neither of them seem like a person who could possibly kill someone. I guess that war is just different. It truly is kill or be killed, and you do what you have to do to stay alive and watch the backs of the men you serve with. I can very much imagine my grandfather and my dad doing that. They were both honorable men, and while killing a human being is something neither would ever do for no good reason, when it comes to protecting their family or their comrades, they did what they had to do.
Knowing how loyal my grandfather was to his men, I can totally see why they respected him so much. He was kind and caring, not just to his family, but to his men, because men who are far away from home during a war, are definitely dealing with a lot of emotions. It helps to have someone in charge who can understand how you feel, and give you advise when it is needed. That’s how my grandfather was. Today would have been Grandpa Byer’s 121st birthday. I wish he could still be with us…I miss him. Happy birthday in Heaven Grandpa. We love you.
Blarney Castle in Ireland is a popular tourist attraction. Whether we know it or not, we have all heard about it, or at least why it is famous. Kissing the Blarney Stone seems like just a silly thing people do on St Patrick’s Day…like drinking green beer. At least, that is what I used to think it was. Back then, I had no idea what a Blarney Stone was, and maybe you don’t know either. According to Irish folklore, anyone who kisses the stone receives the ability to speak with eloquence, or The Gift of the Gab. Now speaking eloquently might be an ability we would all like to have, but the gift of gab reminds me of someone who talks way too much, so I don’t think I would want that so much.
On her trip to Ireland and England, my grandmother had the chance to visit Blarney Castle, and of course to kiss the Blarney Stone. When I saw the picture, and since it was not marked as to what it was, I had a tough time figuring out what was going on. I had never researched the Blarney Stone before, so it didn’t look like something…normal, going on. I thought maybe she fell and have to be helped up, but then I seriously doubt if her brothers and sisters would dare to take a picture of such an event. I know my grandmother, and she could take you if you got out of line, and I don’t care who you are. Once my mom told me what the picture was about…well, the story had to be told. In reality, she was kissing the Blarney Stone, which must be done upside down and low to the ground. They used to hang upside down to do it, but now there is a bench to lay on and bars to hang on to so you don’t fall.
It seems so strange to me that a woman who never drove a car in her life, and didn’t do a huge amount of traveling, would travel to the other side of the world and have such cool adventures. She was after all my grandma, and it seemed so unbelievable that she would be off with brothers and sisters to visit such far away places. I never heard a lot about her trip, but I know that she was different when she came back. Not so noticeably so, but there was something different. She was a world traveler now, and while she never drove a car, she was had done things that made the lack of driving seem of little consequence. As for eloquence of speech, I can’t say that I noticed any difference. She was still my grandma, and that was just fine with me. She didn’t need to make fancy speeches. All she needed to be was my grandma, and the grandmother of all my sisters and cousins.